We Want to see Jesus

“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” These infamous words were uttered by Jim Lovell as a catastrophic explosion jeopardized the lives and mission of the crew of Apollo 13. The “large bang” they reported resulted in a mind-blowing example of ingenuity and innovation as the ground and space crews worked together to create a carbon dioxide filter and then operate and return their spacecraft with very little electrical power. Several agonizing days later, they miraculously splashed down safely as a captivated America watched and prayed.

Today’s passage harkens back to an earlier time of danger, when Jesus’ time on earth was drawing to its inevitable end. Greeks had come to see what all the fuss was about, and they approached Philip to ask to see Jesus. Like the Apollo mission, this passage begins with excited onlookers and high optimism:

John 12 (Common English Bible)

20 Some Greeks were among those who had come up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and made a request: “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

But rather than revel in the potential evangelism of the moment, Jesus begins to forecast what will be a downward trajectory that will define all of them in ways no one could suspect at the onset:

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. 24 I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me.

This “large bang” concerned a wheat grain falling to its death in order to bring forth life. Surely Jesus is projecting his own death on the cross in order to bring the resurrection to the people. The downward spiral continues with words about hating life in this world and losing life if it is loved too much.

But the tone changes when Jesus invited the listeners to follow him. Even if the path sloped down, Jesus promised to be with them and stated that the Father will honor all who follow Jesus.

Yet as he embarks on this path, his own heart is troubled. Listen to his prayer in this difficult time:

27 “Now I am deeply troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, save me from this time’? No, for this is the reason I have come to this time. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Jesus’ prayer was one of assured obedience. He knew that the way he had to go would involve pain and hardship, yet his willingness to accomplish it is summed up with “Father, glorify your name!” In saying this, Jesus reminded us that in order to be glorified, i.e., “lifted up,” he would have to fall down hard first.

And God confirms it:

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

2The crowd standing there heard and said, “It’s thunder.” Others said, “An angel spoke to him.”

30 Jesus replied, “This voice wasn’t for my benefit but for yours.31 Now is the time for judgment of this world. Now this world’s ruler will be thrown out. 32 When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me.” (33 He said this to show how he was going to die.)

His prayer is answered right in front of the crowd, and he explained what will happen next.

34 The crowd responded, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Human One must be lifted up? Who is this Human One?”

35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for only a little while. Walk while you have the light so that darkness doesn’t overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness don’t know where they are going.36 As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you might become people whose lives are determined by the light.” After Jesus said these things, he went away and hid from them.

Are you on a downward trajectory right now? Do you believe that God can glorify your journey? Are you following Jesus even in this darkness? Ask God to lift you up.

Jesus is the light in your situation. If you stay on the path of obedience, he surely will lift you up and return you to solid ground. There is NO problem that he can’t overcome!

Thanks be to God.

Splashdown by Michelle Robertson

The Truth Is

A friend of mine has written a Bible study called “Believe.” It is an exploration of the pillars of the Christian faith and serves as a kind of “Christianity 101.” One of her chapters explores the Apostles Creed, which is a kind of Reader’s Digest version of centuries of Christian thought in one lovely statement.

If you take a moment to unpack it (rather than say it by rote, as we all tend to do), you will find all of the foundations of what we believe. God as creator. Jesus as his son. Mary as a virgin. Jesus crucified, dead and buried. And then on the third day, he arose from the dead. It’s all in there:

The Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The early church began to struggle with the notion of the resurrection of the body. Paul dealt with this in the church in Corinth. (Lord have mercy! Paul dealt with EVERYTHING at the church in Corinth!) Secular thinking had infiltrated the community of faith, pointing out the ridiculous notion of a bodily resurrection for both Jesus and his followers.

So Paul fights back:

1 Corinthians 15 (The Message)

12-15 Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.

16-20 If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot.

But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.

The truth is that Christ was raised up. There were witnesses! And if we trust that, and we do, then we can trust in our own resurrection. It is indeed ridiculous. And miraculous. And unbelievable.
And true.

When I officiate a funeral, I encourage the mourners to hang their hats on this one unshakable truth. Because Jesus lives, you shall live also. And at the other end of all of this is a great heavenly reunion with all who have gone before us.

I believe, and I can’t wait. How about you?

Over the Rainbow by Michelle Robertson

Wanting Tomorrow

A friend who is undergoing cancer treatment is finally having a good week. He feels good, he can walk without a cane, and he actually drove a car for the first time in three months. So he went out and bought green bananas.

I love that last part. It is a glorious sign of recovery. It is a act of hope. It’s what people do when they realize they will indeed live to see another day.

I wonder how many of us are leading our lives as though tomorrow won’t come. There are times when life can beat us down so hard we don’t have the energy, resolve, or desire to even lift our head off the pillow. Sometimes this feeling is situational, and eventually gets easier. Sometimes darker things are at play and we need help.

I’m sure we can recall a very hard break up with someone we thought we would be ours forever. Relationships ending can leave us feeling tremendously defeated. If you’ve ever been fired, you might recall a moment of sitting in the car with your hands on the wheel, unable to imagine a tomorrow. At the moment when the doctor came out of the operating room and told us that our daughter had cancer when she was a college junior, I could not see her tomorrows for a moment. Not seeing hers made me not see mine. Losing your parents, a spouse, or God forbid, a child, can leave you not even wanting tomorrows.

Hebrews 11 The Message (MSG)

Faith in What We Don’t See

11 1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

3 By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see.

When tomorrows seem hazy and unattainable, it is good to remember what this verse is telling us. We have the firm foundation of a trustworthy God, which gives us a handle on what we can’t see. We can fix our feet firmly in a world called into existence by God. How amazing is it to know that God creates what we see, and what we don’t see. He is the creator of all of the tomorrows yet to comeWe don’t need to see it…God does, and that is enough.

The ancestors of our faith were content to allow their tomorrows unfold according to God’s design and will for their lives. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah…they all bought green bananas.

32-36 There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. 

There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. 

Our ultimate tomorrow is found in the resurrection. There is something better. There is hope. There is a reason to get up, get moving, and get on with it. In truth, tomorrow never comes, for each tomorrow turns into today, and each day brings new mercies.

Faith is the reality of what we hope for and the proof of what we don’t see. So let us walk by faith and not by sight, and go forth to buy green bananas.

Yesterday’s Tomorrow by Wende Pritchard

Dead to Me

If I told you I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately, would you think I’m morbid? Or just a pastor? Our community has suffered several unexpected deaths in recent weeks. A colleague’s mother was killed in a horrific car accident, a lovely man with Down’s Syndrome finally succumbed to death, and a beloved gentleman died suddenly in his garden. Funeral preparations have blunted the joy of Easter and we are doing what we do as we prepare to bid farewell to these joyful people. Ministry is hard.

But in the midst of writing funeral liturgies and selecting scripture passages, this comes along:

Romans 6 (Common English Bible)

Or don’t you know that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we were buried together with him through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too can walk in newness of life. 

Easter is nothing if not a proclamation of the newness of life. This passage reminds us that we don’t just celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we actually participate in it ourselves. John Donne, the 17th century poet, scholar, and Church of England cleric, says this about the impact of the resurrection upon humankind: “The Resurrection is an enormous answer to the problem of death. The idea is that the Christian goes with Christ through death to everlasting life. Death becomes an event, like birth, that is lived through.”

Death is just an event. It is a passageway, not a final destination. Think of it! Rather than being an ending, it is something that is lived through as we continue life in a new location.

If we were united together in a death like his, we will also be united together in a resurrection like his. This is what we know: the person that we used to be was crucified with him in order to get rid of the corpse that had been controlled by sin. That way we wouldn’t be slaves to sin anymore, because a person who has died has been freed from sin’s power. But if we died with Christ, we have faith that we will also live with him. 

So the question for us today is this: have you really died to self so that you might live with Christ? This is a question about the newness of life. When we accept Christ, we begin life anew as followers of his Way. Are you faithful in your daily walk with Jesus, or have you slipped off his path?

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him. 10 He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life. 11 In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

May we commit to being truly alive for God in Christ Jesus.

Just a Closer Walk by Kathy Schumacher

The Easter Effect

I have a clergy friend who used to dread the week after Easter. He works primarily in music and drama ministries and has coined the phrase P.E.D. He feels that the worst part of Easter is the Post Easter Depression that falls on church folks. All the preparation and excitement of musicals, dramas, Easter egg hunts, special children’s sermons, the rush of Holy Week activities, etc. amp us up into a high frenzy of spiritual energy. When it is finally all over, a kind of confetti-scattered, chocolate-smeared, post-party-clean-up lethargy comes over us and we just want to sit still for a moment.

But when we catch our breath, we realize that Easter isn’t just a day. Indeed, Easter is a state of mind. It is an attitude. It is a lifestyle.

How interesting it is, then, to look back at the people who were present at the Resurrection. What effect did the Resurrection have on the culture of their time? How did Jesus’ followers react? What happened to them?

In the 4th chapter of Acts, Luke describes a radical, new Easter People:

Acts 4 (The Message)

32-33 The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them.

If Easter is meant to do one thing, it is to unite believers. Easter calls us to be of one heart and one mind. Even more challenging, Easter calls us to share what we have with those who have not. That is our witness to the power of the resurrection. Easter People realize that it’s not about them, but rather it is about grace poured out unconditionally to everyone.

34-35 And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy. Those who owned fields or houses sold them and brought the price of the sale to the apostles and made an offering of it. The apostles then distributed it according to each person’s need.

Are you one of the Easter People? Where is God calling you to sacrifice and share with someone who is needy? What exactly does the resurrection mean to you? Are there needy people in your community who could experience grace through your generosity?

Let us strive to celebrate Easter all year by being the one-heart, one-mind kind of believers. Maybe this year we can turn our Post Easter Depression into People Eastering Deliberately.

Spring Renewal by Michelle Robertson

Let Loose

I apologize in advance, but today’s devotional begins with a tragic and bizarre story.

My sister-in-law once owned a rental home in the town where I lived. She had a faithful older gentleman renter who was always on time with his rent, and liked to do small repairs to her property. So when months went by with no rent check, and calls to his home went unanswered, she contacted her brother (my husband) and asked him to meet her at the house so she could check on her renter.

The rest reads like a Twilight Zone episode.

As they approached the house, one remarked to the other that if they saw a convergence of black flies on the inside of the windows, they would know the worst had happened.

Cue the black flies.

However, the lawn was mowed and there were no newspapers on the lawn, giving them hope. But a quick trip around the back revealed that the nice lawn guy had been stacking the papers up on the back porch as he mowed every week.

Cue the unnoticed, over-stuffed mailbox.

Beginning to put two and two together, they called the non-emergency line for the local police station and asked for assistance.

Cue the young officer in a full Hazmat suit.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. The gentleman had perished inside the house two months earlier. When the officers opened the front door, it was obvious.

Cue the horrific smell.

The retelling of this sad story is offered to put into context what you are about to read. In the book of John, the story is told of the death of Lazarus. Jesus had been informed of his illness, but elected not to go in time to heal him. (Which, being Jesus, he could have easily done.)

Ever wonder why?

John 11 (The Message)

5-7 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, but oddly, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed on where he was for two more days. After the two days, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

11 He said these things, and then announced, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I’m going to wake him up.”

12-13 The disciples said, “Master, if he’s gone to sleep, he’ll get a good rest and wake up feeling fine.” Jesus was talking about death, while his disciples thought he was talking about taking a nap.

14-15 Then Jesus became explicit: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him.”

You see, up to this point, Jesus had performed many miracles of illness-healing, lunch-multiplying, demon-casting, storm-calming, and water-walking. The disciples had witnessed all of it. But they didn’t know the one thing that was the most profound of all of Jesus’ miraculous powers: he had power over death.

37 Others among them said, “Well, if Jesus loved him so much, why didn’t he do something to keep him from dying? After all, he opened the eyes of a blind man.”

38-39 Then Jesus, the anger again welling up within him, arrived at the tomb. It was a simple cave in the hillside with a slab of stone laid against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

The sister of the dead man, Martha, said, “Master, by this time there’s a stench. He’s been dead four days!”

40 Jesus looked her in the eye. “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And with that, the stone was removed and Jesus called Lazarus to walk out of the tomb.

The power of the resurrection is the greatest miracle of all. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. The glory of life after death was on display for all to see, and all who saw were invited to believe.

Do you believe? What needs to die in you so that you can see the glory of God in your life? Where is God inviting you to walk out of the stench of your decay and shed your grave clothes?

When Lazarus walked out, Jesus instructed his friends to “let loose” the burial strips of cloth that had bound up his body.

The invitation is the same for you. Let loose everything that is constricting your faith, confining your life, and walk free.

Child of God, COME FORTH.

The Light of New Life by Cheryl Smith